After we eat a meal, the carbohydrate is broken down into glucose and passed into the bloodstream. The hormone called insulin is then alerted and is responsible for regulating the glucose by taking it from the bloodstream into the cells of the body.
Diabetes occurs when insulin is either inadequate or ineffective, or the cells don’t respond correctly to insulin. This renders it difficult for the body to effectively regulate the glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream.
What is Glucose?
Glucose is our body’s energy source. It provides fuel for tissues such as adipose tissue (fatty tissue) and muscle. Any glucose that is not used is converted to fat within the body. If there are prolonged high levels of glucose in our bloodstream, damage to finer blood vessels and nerve endings may occur.
What is Insulin?
Insulin is a hormone and is manufactured in the pancreas. The pancreas is responsible for the production of insulin which controls and regulates sugar levels within our body.
How Does Insulin Work?
As previously mentioned, insulin is manufactured in the pancreas. When our blood glucose levels rise, the beta cells within the pancreas release insulin in order to bring down the sugar levels in our bloodstream. Insulin works by improving the uptake of sugar into our cells. The glucose is then used by our cells as fuel to enable them to perform their different jobs, or it is stored in the liver or muscle cells as glycogen until needed.
Diabetes is therefore an inability for the glucose to effectively be removed from the bloodstream causing high blood glucose levels. The body strives to clear the high glucose levels by compensatory means, such as increased urination.
Types of Diabetes
The 2 most common forms of diabetes are Type 1 and Type 2.
- Diabetes Type 1, Insulin dependent - This is an autoimmune disease of the beta cells of the pancreas and occurs when the pancreas can no longer produce insulin that is so necessary for the uptake of glucose from the bloodstream into the cells. As a result, blood builds up in the bloodstream causing damage to internal organs and blood vessels.
- Diabetes Type 2, Non Insulin Dependent - Often referred to as the "lifestyle disease", diabetes type 2 is often associated with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and weight gain. Metabolic Syndrome X is considered to precede diabetes type 2. Diabetes Type 2 may be prevented through lifestyle change.
What Are the Common Symptoms of Diabetes?
- Excessive Thirst
- Excessive urination
- Excessive eating
- Poor wound healing
- Altered mental status
- Blurry vision
A Diabetic Diet
People with diabetes should follow a healthy lifestyle regime. This should be based on a balanced diet of high fibre and whole grain foods avoiding highly processed food and reducing their intake of unhealthy fats. There should be an exercise regime in place. Following a low glycaemic index (GI) diet can be helpful in blood glucose management.
- Low GI foods means our bodies digest these types of foods more slowly. This net result is more stable blood sugar levels;
- There are good fats and there are bad fats. Bad fats such as Trans fats, can lead to obesity and insulin resistance. The good fats include coconut oil, olive oil, avocado and fish. The omega 3 fatty acids can reduce triglycerides and blood pressure. It is important to substitute the high fat meats for leaner meats and the processed foods for more of the healthy fats;
- Reduce salt intake. People with diabetes often have high blood pressure which can in turn increase the load on the kidneys, salt can exacerbate this;
- Consume a diet high in fibre. Legumes offer high fibre, improved blood glucose management, and cholesterol lowering properties;
- Nuts are great for heart health and contain important nutrients for overall health. Almonds can reduce post meal blood sugar levels.